Thought Leadership Tensions - Part 2: Hare v Tortoise

By Steve Blundell - Head of Acritas Advisors

In our last Thought Leadership article, I said we would look at six key challenges facing the creators of thought leadership content.

  1. Picking a topic
  2. Focus and speed to market
  3. Getting value from “old” ideas
  4. Collaboration
  5. Channel issues
  6. Internal engagement

We looked first at picking a topic and this time we consider focus and speed to market.

 

Focus – Less is More

Firstly focus. In the major consulting firms the biggest challenge with thought leadership is doing less better. Such is the culture, that almost every senior fee earner in these firms will have the creation of thought leadership content hard wired into their performance objectives. That of course produces a huge volume of content, but much of it low quality and often “off message”. These firms have to work hard to corral the content into fewer, more significant and impactful pieces. In contrast, most law firms are struggling to get projects off the ground.

But this may not be the full picture. The global law firms have long had armies of professional support lawyers (PSLs) involved in capturing and codifying legal knowledge. These senior, clever but expensive people have been watching their workload shrink with the advent of new technology. Faced with impending extinction, a growing number have gone through a Darwinian adaptation and now have “thought leadership” in their job specs. A short visit to many firm’s web sites will now reveal a burgeoning weight of material, produced by these folk – much of it badged thought leadership – and only a fraction of it being genuinely thought leading.

There must be a case now for firms to take a strategic view of this content – which is unquestionably costing a great deal to produce. Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out of the consultancies’ playbook – and focus on less often being more.

 

Speed to market

This then creates another challenge. In the old days, thought leadership reports took months to produce and they appeared in a glossy report – sometimes I recall in hardback! Now they can be launched at the touch of a button.

So, there’s a massive tension between being the first to market with a viewpoint and being thorough.

One of the Big 4 has a huge mechanism for the creation, processing and review of projects. The result is weighty, well researched and truly authoritative. In contrast, other firms race out to market with first-to-comment content – grabbing the readers’ interest and, no doubt scoring points for business acumen. But the content often has little or no empirical basis and can appear insubstantial very quickly. Our BrainBox evaluation tool identifies these projects as “Braggers”: high on relevance but lacking credibility.

These two approaches though are not necessarily hare v tortoise! Both have their merits and executed well can create real competitive advantage for players who employ them. The danger, of course, lies in the middle ground. The firm that is ponderous getting to market but when it does say something, it’s insubstantial or old news.

Because law firms’ decision making can often be tortuous, there is every danger that firms find themselves in precisely this position. So, it’s doubly vital that when they do come to market with a project, that it does have a new and really compelling perspective, and that the work has a strong empirical foundation, so it was worth waiting for after all.

 

You can read more of Steve's blogs here >>

 

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